“So how long have you known, Rhys?” I asked.
Xavier tilted his head, looking rather relaxed, despite the current situation he was in. We had been seated on the couch for the past thirty minutes, him on one end and me on the other with my gun still fixed on him. “It’s been about, oh, seven years I’d say.”
“How did you—”
“How long have you known him?” he interrupted.
“Not as long as you,” I replied, purposefully keeping my answer vague.
He threw his arm over the back of the couch, shifting. My cheeks turned hot as his muscles flexed. It was hard to act like it was completely normal that he was naked, only a pillow to shield him from view. “You’ll have to excuse my surprise. I just find it hard to believe that Rhys, of all people, has a human staying in his house. Our kind has pretty strict rules about these sort of things...there are of course exceptions...”
Xavier had successfully peaked my curiosity, which I got the feeling had been his intention from the calculating look in his eyes. I wasn’t going to give into his manipulation. I’d just turn my line of questioning in another direction. “Have you always been a werewolf?”
His eyebrow arched. “Yes. My great-great-great grandfather was turned sometime in the 1700s. Slavers brought him here on a boat from Africa. The rest is history.”
I nodded my head; not sure what else I should ask him. Thankfully, our conversation ended when I heard the familiar rumble of my truck engine. Headlights flashed across the wall as they broke through the window.
“Looks like Rhys is home,” Xavier said, giving me a half-hearted smile.
For some reason I was nervous. I had no explanation for why but the feeling dripped from my clammy hands and tickled my stomach. Rhys footsteps seemed to cause the house to shudder around us as he came up the steps. The lock springing loose echoed in the room. I turned my gaze to the door, slowly, licking my lips as he walked through the front door. His eyes locked with mine, then swayed to Xavier. Those green eyes turned wild and I was reminded of what lurked in his bones. He closed the door, the action calm – too calm.
“Rhys.” I watched as he walked towards us, dropping the keys to my truck on the side table. The noise was sharp and I tightened my grip on the handle of my revolver. “Don’t worry, he didn’t hurt me.”
Xavier appeared unfazed by the tension hanging in the room. He greeted Rhys with a smile. “It’s good to see you well.” The comment sounded genuine.
There was a moment of tense silence before Rhys lunged forward with a snarl, and I found myself moving into action as well. My brain screaming that Rhys planned to kill the man if I didn’t do something to stop him. I didn’t know their history but I couldn’t stand to have someone killed in front of me. Not someone who seemed for all purposes innocent of any crimes. I jumped in between the two of them, using my body as a blockade.
I think my action surprised everyone, especially myself. Rhys came to an abrupt stop. “Get out of the way, Dove.” I could see from the look in his eyes he was on the verge of pushing his way through me if I didn’t heed his command.
“No,” I replied, shaking my head. “He hasn’t done anything wrong. You’re overreacting.”
Xavier shifted on the couch behind me. “I would never harm an innocent.”
Rhys gave a vicious snarl, canines on full display. He seemed to be barely clinging to reason. I had never seen him like this and it sent a wave of fear through me. He eyed Xavier over my shoulder, moving a step closer before lowering his gaze to me. The fury there had me wanting to sink to the floor and cower but I forced myself not to move. “You promise me that he hasn’t laid a finger on you.”
He tightened his hands into fists at his side before turning and taking a couple of steps away from me. I watched his body shudder as if it were going to split apart. I tightened my grip on my revolver, not sure what was going to happen next. After a couple of deep breaths, he turned back to us.
“Let’s talk somewhere private,” he said to Xavier in a calm tone. He was acting as if all of what had happened moments before had been erased from all our collective memories. I was confused by the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde display Rhys had just put on. Xavier didn’t seem all that put out as he glanced in my direction, meeting my gaze for a moment.
“If that’s what you’d prefer.” The silence that followed the statement was a clear answer and it grated on me. I didn’t like being kept in the dark, especially when I got the sense that it was being done intentionally. Xavier rose up from the couch gracefully, turning to me with a polite smile. “It was nice to meet you, Dove.”
I just nodded my head, watching as two of them disappeared down the darkened hallway, Rhys never sparing me a second glance. I stared blankly at the void as the silence pressed in on me. Why did everything have to be so secretive? It only added to my growing desire to know more. If Rhys wasn’t going to tell me then I would have to find out for myself.
I tucked my gun in the waist of my jeans as I tip-toed my way down the hallway. Following the deep hum of muffled voices. They were inside a room that I’d never been in. I gently pressed my ear to the door, doing my best to steady my breathing and calm my racing heart.
“What are you doing here?”
“Kendrick sent me.”
Who is Kendrick?
“Of course, he did,” Rhys grumbled.
“News spreads fast in these parts, you know that.” The floorboards creaked and settled as someone walked away from the door.
“The alliance was broken. I don’t see why he should care.”
“He cares because your problems often become our problems,” Xavier said nonchalantly.
“Oh, fuck off.” There came the something smacking against a hard surface.
Xavier chuckled, clearly not concerned by Rhys’s brashness. “Humor me, Rhys. Why are you so keen on finding the Alpha from Jericho?”
He was here to talk about Silas. I furrowed my brow. Was the werewolf community so small that they all knew about each other? Or was it just that Silas was so terrible he’d made a name for himself? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the latter. There was a long pause. I could hear some shifting on the other side of the door.
“He came into my town, unannounced, and threatened a human.” Rhys’s deep voice carried through the room. “I can’t let that go. It sends a message.”
“And since when did you start caring about humans?”
“Since I became Alpha and it became my responsibility to keep our existence a secret.”
Xavier laughed. I could almost picture the amusement that was probably written on his face. “And I might’ve believed that if I hadn’t met your new friend. She seems sweet, by the way.”
He was talking about me. My heart beat a little faster, but I couldn’t tell if it was fear or excitement. I pressed my ear harder to the door. A low growl rumbled on the other side. “This doesn’t have anything to do with her.”
“I think we both know this has everything to do with her. What other reason could you have to take a human under your protection after all that has happened, unless she is your—”
“Don’t say another word.” Rhys interrupted, sounding edgy. The strong warning was followed by more silence. I knew they were talking about me and I wanted to know what Xavier was going to say. Frustration bubbled in my stomach. What was Rhys keeping from me? What was I to him? “Just get to the point. Why are you here?”
“Fine.” Xavier conceded. “Kendrick is willing to help you with your problem.”
“Is he? And what does he want in return?” It was hard to miss the suspicion in Rhys’s tone.
“Who says he wants anything? Maybe he just wants to help out an old friend.”
Rhys’s laugh was absent of warmth. “Kendrick only gets involved if things will benefit him in some way. So, tell me, what is he after? Is it money? More land?”
“He wants to meet with you...to talk.”
Rhys scoffed. “If he just wants to talk why didn’t he come here himself? Why send you?”
“Because he thought seeing him would reopen old wounds and he needs you to be willing to listen to what he has to say.”
“I see why Kendrick sent you. But it won’t work.” I heard the sound of chair legs screeching under sudden movement. I bit into my lip, the pinching feeling kept my heart steady.
Xavier was interrupted before he could finish forming his response. “Tell my old friend I’m not interested. I can handle my own problems.”
“Won’t you even—” There was urgency in Xavier’s tone that had been absent earlier. Not even when I’d had him at gunpoint had he lost his diplomatic composure. Whatever had brought him here must’ve been important.
“We’re done here. You can go,” Rhys said, dismissing him.
More silence, followed by the shifting of the old floorboards. I backed away from the door quickly, looking for a place to hide but there was nowhere. I bit my lip and stepped to the side, hoping to play it off that I’d only just approached the room. The door opened a crack and Xavier’s amber gaze fell upon me. Thankfully, he was wearing a pair of athletic shorts now. If he was surprised to see me he hid it well. My presence hadn’t gotten any reaction.
“She doesn’t know, does she?” he asked, continuing to peer at me through the small space.
My brows furrowed.
“There’s nothing to know.”
“You’re a terrible liar.” Xavier opened the door a little wider as he turned back to Rhys, covering me from view. He wanted me to hear, to know what he was about to say. “I suggest you get better at that if you want to keep your mate and pack safe. People will happily use your weaknesses against you.”
My heart dropped into my stomach like a hundred-pound weight.
Piece by piece the puzzle began to come together. It explained our connection to each other, and why I was drawn to him beyond my own reason. The truth had been in front of me the entire time, plain as day. And I had missed it. Feelings of anger and betrayal wrapped around my heart, bringing my blood to a boil. Rhys had known this entire time. He had known and hadn’t said a thing. I’d slept with him. I had given him a piece of trust – a small piece, but a piece all the same – and he was trying to hide the truth from me. No-not simply hide it, but bury it.
“I suggest you learn to mind your own business,” Rhys replied.
I clenched my fists so tight that it hurt. My tongue tasted bitter in my mouth. I stepped back out of the light as Xavier left the room, closing the door hard behind him. He didn’t say anything more to me, didn’t look at me again. He just passed by as if I didn’t exist, as If I were a ghost. And at that moment I wished I were. I wanted to disappear. The sound of the front door slamming echoed through the house. What was I supposed to do now? My anger called for me to act.
Leave. The word – the feeling whispered through my mind. Rhys had been manipulating me, probably from the very beginning. He wasn’t any different than Silas...
No, that wasn’t true. He was different because unlike Silas, Rhys had leverage over me. We were connected through some kind of terrible magic. We were mates. I shuddered. I needed to get away before he tried to trap me. I needed to get away before he turned me into another Rachel.
I turned from the door in a hurry, going back to my room and quickly stuffing my clothes back into my bag, glad I hadn’t done much with them. I didn’t care to wait around and explain myself to Rhys. He didn’t deserve it, and to think I wanted to open up to him...I truly was an idiot. I through the strap of my bag over my shoulder, not caring to zip it closed as I marched out of the bedroom.
The keys to my truck were set nicely on the side table. I hurried my pace, snatching them as I passed by on my way to the front door. The night air rolled over me, causing goosebumps to rise on my arms. The darkness would have been overwhelming if it wasn’t for the nearly full moon in the sky. I was careful as I took the steps not wanting to trip.
“Dove?” Rhys called to me in confusion.
I ignored him.
I didn’t stop. I kept my steady stride toward my truck. His pounding footsteps matched my heart. The moonlight cast his shadow over me as he came up on me from behind.
“Dove, will you just stop for a second?” His touch burned my skin as he fingers brushed over my wrist as I evaded his grasp. I spun around with a venomous hiss on my lips, pulling my revolver from the waist of my jeans and pointing it at him. Rhys froze, surprise written across his handsome face. I doubt he thought I would ever take up arms against him.
“Don’t touch me.”
“What the hell has gotten into you?”
“The truth.” My voice was thick with my emotions.
His brows furrowed and his gaze shifted. “What are you talking about?”
My heart squeezed in my chest and I clenched my teeth, holding back the visceral response to scream. I had inherited my mother’s short temper. “I heard everything. I know, Rhys.”
He took a step back like I had hit him.
“Why didn’t you want me to know we’re mates?”
His face hardened at my question. The surprise that had given me the upper hand slipped through my fingers. “Because I’m not the mating type. Because you’re a human. Because you have no plans to stick around once your ex is out of the picture and I have no desire to babysit you for the rest of our lives. Pick whichever reason you like best.”
His harsh words cut at my soul. I blinked back tears. “I thought you were different than Silas, but you’re just like him. You’ve been lying and manipulating me since we met. And for what? A chance to fuck your mate before she leaves town?”
He didn’t respond, not that I had expected him too. I let out a bitter laugh. “I’m leaving.”
“Don’t be stupid,” he growled. “I know you’re upset but you’re safer here with me. I can’t protect you out there.”
My face went blank as my heart went numb. “I’ve never needed you to protect me and you’re an idiot for not realizing that.”
I watched the muscles in Rhys jaws clench and unclench as he stood tall under the weight of my words. I lingered for a moment longer, gathering what was left of my willpower before forcing myself to turn away from him. I walked calmly to my truck, though every step felt like a noose was tightening around my neck. My heart was like a stone in my stomach. I had to be stronger than whatever it was trying to pull us together. If I stayed I might never be free again. I had wanted to believe that Rhys was different, but now I couldn’t be sure that was some trick of this invisible force that tied us together. I couldn’t trust in anything - not in myself and certainly not in Rhys. I tossed my bag in the back.
“Where are you going?” He kept his distance, probably wary of my gun. Good.
“None of your business. You’re not my babysitter anymore.”
“Dove.” He said my name with an authority that had no effect.
“If you follow me...I’ll shoot you.” The threat tasted foul in my mouth. I opened the driver’s side door, pulling myself up into the cab. I slammed the door shut as I threw the key in the ignition and threw it into reverse, kicking up a dusty cloud of dirt and gravel. His gaze was dangerous as he watched me drive away from him, but he didn’t make a move to follow me.